‘They call me Mayor Pete’: Buttigieg launches 2020 presidential run
South Bend mayor makes announcement in hometown, saluting husband and setting out vision
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, speaks during his official presidential campaign launch announcement in South Bend, Indiana, US. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg
Pete Buttigieg officially launched his run for the White House on Sunday, against a backdrop of surging poll numbers and increasing national interest. The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, the fourth-largest city in Indiana, made the announcement at an afternoon rally in his hometown.
Mr Buttigieg said he was running “to tell a different story than ‘Make America Great Again’. Because there’s a myth being sold – the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back.
“The problem is that they’re telling us to look for greatness in all the wrong places. As South Bend has shown, there is no such thing as an honest politics that revolves around the word ‘again’. It is time to walk away from the politics of the past and towards something totally different.”
‘Proud son of South Bend’
“They call me mayor Pete. I’m a proud son of South Bend, Indiana, and I am running for president of the United States. ”
Mr Buttigieg said he was part of the first generation to grow up with school shootings and to expect to live with the fallout from climate change - “Climate security” is “a life-and-death issue for our generation”.
Mr Buttigieg outlined a campaign he said would spotlight the themes of freedom, security and democracy.
We live in a moment that compels us each to act. The forces changing our country today are tectonic
“I recognise the audacity of doing this as a midwestern millennial mayor,” he said. “More than a little bold – But we live in a moment that compels us each to act. The forces changing our country today are tectonic.
“This time, it’s not just about winning an election. It’s about winning an era. It’s not just about the next four years, it’s about preparing our country for a better life in 2030, in 2040. And in 2054 when, god willing, I get to be the same age as our current president.”
Donald Trump is 72-years-old.
“The horror show in Washington is mesmerising, it’s all-consuming,” Mr Buttigieg said. “But starting today, we’re going to change the channel.”
Saying “politics is personal”, Mr Buttigieg listed ways from healthcare to spousal visitation rights for same-sex couples that connect legislation in Washington to life across the country. His prescription for change included electoral reform, “healthcare for every American”, racial justice, women’s equality and organised labour.
“It will take courage to move on from our past,” he said. “We’re not going back.”
As he concluded, Buttigieg was engulfed in cheers which swelled to the first chords of his playoff song, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Up Around the Bend.
Earlier, a big day for the openly gay Rhodes scholar Afghanistan veteran broke with a new website, peteforamerica.com, a New York magazine cover - headline, “Wonder Boy” - and an interview with the tabloid website TMZ in which he revealed a love for “classic rock” like Creedence and was duly given a guitar.
“Mayor Pete didn’t disappoint,” TMZ said, “as he started riffin’ Hey Joe by Hendrix!”
Mr Buttigieg was also asked what he would do if he made it to a campaign against Trump in which homophobia became a factor.
“I’m kind of used to that by now,” Mr Buttigieg said. “I’m from Indiana, I’m gay as a – I don’t know, think of something really gay, that’s how gay I am. So I’m used to bullying. I think you confront it initially and then you move on.
“So when [Trump]does something, not just targeting the LGBT community but all the things about immigrants, putting down working people, people of colour, whoever’s being attacked at that moment, you’ve gotta confront that but you can’t let that be the end of the story.
“When he lies or does something wrong you confront that and then you change the channel, change the subject back to you.”
At his rally, Mr Buttigieg thanked his husband of one year. “And to Chasten, my love,” he said - interjecting in response to cheers, “Yeah I’m pretty fond of him too” - [Thank you]”for giving me the strength to do this and the grounding to be myself as we go.”
He also name-checked his two dogs, Buddy and Truman.
Since forming an exploratory committee, Mr Buttigieg has published a well-received memoir, toured TV studios and early voting states and performed impressively as a fundraiser, sailing past the number of donors needed to make the debates.
Some observers have counselled caution, pointing out that third-place polling in Iowa and New Hampshire - behind Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden but ahead of Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke - means little a year away from the primary.
On Saturday CNN published a report headlined: “Pete Buttigieg pushed an aggressive plan to revitalize South Bend. Not everyone felt its benefits.”
Also up for debate is whether Buttigieg’s mix of a strong personal story, charismatically expressed progressive priorities and faith-based appeal to middle America may prove too good - or lightweight - to be true.
On Sunday, Mr Buttigieg told the New York Times he was “focused on the interaction of ‘narrative and politics’ and how parties connect with people beyond policy decrees”.
Dan Glickman, a secretary of agriculture under Bill Clinton who taught at Harvard when Mr Buttigieg was there, told the Times the mayor had a “way of articulating a vision which is progressive but not off-putting”.
George Lakoff, a Berkeley linguist, said: “He knows how to talk plainly. Usually, Democrats are saying: What are your 10 most important policy areas? He doesn’t do that.”
In the days before his launch, Mr Buttigieg’s expression of support for Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota congresswoman targeted by Trump for her remarks about 9/11, was feverishly parsed and debated.
“The president today made America smaller,” Mr Buttigieg wrote. “It is not enough to condemn him; we must model something better.”
His speech on Sunday was meant to begin that process, to present a young president - he would be the youngest ever, at 39 - who might bridge a deepening political divide.
Earlier this month, he cited James Joyce’s most famous novel, Ulysses, as one of his favourite books in an interview with the pop-culture website Vulture. Mr Buttigieg described Ulysses as the greatest work of modern English literature: “It’s known for being complex and difficult, but in a way it’s very democratic: a story about what it is to be human as one middle-class guy goes about one day of his life in Dublin.”